"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel"
(which means ,God with us).
Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14
Amid the flurry of shopping, decorating, and parties, each of us can lose focus on the significance of the Nativity of Jesus Christ season for our life of faith. We can become overly sentimental about Christmas. We can forget the meaning of what happened in Bethlehem over two millennia ago.
The passage above from the Book of Isaiah repeated in the Gospel of Matthew, should jolt us to a new understanding: God is with us. God Himself has broken into the world and into our lives. We have seen the glorious light of God because "God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5). Jesus Christ is this light. Jesus Christ is one with the Father. And today, we celebrate His Nativity in the Flesh as we call the Feast in the Church calendar.
The Nativity of Christ - the Incarnation - was necessary to rescue us from ourselves. As Saint Athanasios the Great taught, humanity had turned away from the true God and became less than what God created us to be. We had forgotten that each man and each woman is created in the image and likeness of the true God. This condition still exists in our world today, when we see the dehumanizing actions of our world towards one another, from trafficking and slavery, violence and abuse, to war and persecution, and the list could go on.
So, what was Our Creator to do? How could He renew the image of God in us? He became human Himself, in His Son, Jesus Christ. Saint Athanasios writes, "The Word of God came in His own person, because it was He alone, the image of the Father, who could recreate man after the image." In other words, God took on human flesh, because we needed God to do for us what we could not or would not do for ourselves. We did not turn to God, so God comes to us as the child born of Mary in Bethlehem this day.
In the Nativity, God "Became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14). By taking human flesh and living in the world, Christ has shown us how we are to treat ourselves, our neighbor, the world around us, and how to be in communion with our Heavenly Father. That fellowship does not occur by downloading a podcast or reading a few nice books, as instructional as they might be for us. Christ has taught us that communion with God requires that we immerse ourselves in our Church community, amid other disciples of Christ. God is with us in our parishes. God is with us in the Liturgy, in Sacred Scripture, in our prayer and worship, and in Holy Communion. There we experience the glory of the light of Christ.
Once we have seen the true Light of Christ, we can carry that light into the world. We actually are commanded to do so. Just as the angels - the messengers of God - shared the Good News that God is with us to the shepherds, we can share that same Good News with others. God is with us when we are with our families and friends. God is with us in our workplaces and in every action of our day, no matter how small it may seem. God is with us in our acts of charity and service that restore the dignity of those who suffer from the ills and injustices of the world, as Christ's presence renewed the image of God in us all.
May the light of the Nativity shine in your hearts, in your homes, and in all your days in this Holy Season of Light and in the coming New Year.
With Love in Our Newborn King,
@ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
Metropolitan Gerasimos Shares Message of Pastoral Love from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9
It is with great esteem and respect that I share with you this letter from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. This poignant message to our faithful who have been suffering from the devastation of the fires is truly a message of love and compassion from our Spiritual Father and Shepherd.
Even though Constantinople is thousands of miles away from the west coast, the pastoral care and concern of His All-Holiness is deeply appreciated and reflects His love for us as well as His ongoing concern and commitment to preserving and protecting the environment. Our Mother Church serves a guide and beacon for our Archdiocese and Metropolis, carrying the torch of our faith and preserving and promoting Orthodox Christianity throughout the world.
May God, in His infinite wisdom, love and mercy, grant peace to all those who have been affected by these fires and throughout the world during this Christmas season and the New Year!
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
In the 1965 classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown picks a small, weak and flimsy-looking Christmas tree for the Christmas play he and his friends are putting together. When he goes to put an ornament on it, the tree falls. Charlie Brown is devastated. However, his friend Linus says the following: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really—maybe it just needs a little love.” At that point, Charlie Brown’s friends rush to help decorate that vulnerable tree and it is transformed and becomes beautiful, strong and bright.
I believe the aforementioned scene captures an essential theme of the great Feast Day of Christmas: weak, broken humanity is refashioned and made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the abundant love of God, by God becoming a human being, a reality that Orthodox Christians refer to as the Incarnation.
Charlie Brown did not reject this little, weak tree when he first saw it. God also, did not reject His weak, broken and sinful creation. Instead, the eternal Logos came down from heaven to dwell among us and when He did, He did not shun us. Many “righteous” people in the Gospels looked at spiritually weak, sinful and broken people such as the man born blind, the harlot, the tax collector, and the woman caught in adultery and wanted nothing to do with them. Our Lord, on the other hand, showed mercy, compassion and love to these individuals, establishing the fertile soil for their spiritual rebirth.
I believe many people are spiritually broken and weak because they do not have the love of God in their lives. What does it mean to be spiritually broken and weak? It can mean to be confused, lost, empty, selfish or in despair. To be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright means to be full of genuine hope, peace, joy and love.
All people need the love of God to be to be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright. The love of God is found in the Church. And who is the Church? We are – both clergy and laity! Every baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian constitute together the Church of Christ. Just like that little tree was transformed through the love of Charlie Brown’s friends, we too, as the Church, transform the spiritually broken and weak we encounter by giving them the love of Christ.
We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by not giving up on people because of their spiritual weakness and brokenness. We, as the Church, must see in others what others may not see in themselves: their goodness, value, worth and that they are lovable. We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by treating all people with kindness, respect, care, concern, mercy, and compassion.
The tragedy is that it is possible that this love of Christ may not be experienced in a parish. We must make sure that we do our part so that anyone who attends our services, ministries and functions, can tell others that they are loved, welcomed, cherished and embraced.
Above all, I hope we ourselves--spiritually broken and weak though we might be--have experienced transformation; being made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the love of God found in the Church. It is this love of Christ, and only this love, that can fulfill us and restore us.
May you and your loved ones experience the transformative love of Christ in His Church this Christmas, now and always.
Rev. Father Panagiotis Sotiras, Proistamenos Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church - Stockton, California